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20th April 2018
Bestie times
Title of film: Janelle Monáe, PYNK
Director: Emma Westenberg
Production Company: Partizan
We’ve watched Halal & Partizan director Emma Westenberg’s progression from her student graduation film four years ago, to her experimental shorts and fashion films. In each film her craft became increasingly proficient; her visual voice distinctly growing louder, more out there and imaginative. And now she has directed this hilariously brilliant celebration of women’s sexuality for Janelle Monáe with her girl gang having the best time ever

We loved your earlier work in particular Burning Oceans into Deserts as well as Blue and You for designer Sophie Hardeman. And now you’ve directed this insanely empowering, game-changing work of art for Janelle Monae.  Was it a close collaborative process from the beginning and how did that work? Was there even a brief?

Emma: Yes definitely, Pynk is part of a longer film, accompanying her upcoming/latest (it’s coming out very soon) album. Janelle’s creative Wondaland team and I have been in contact about the album for a couple of months, going back and forth over the treatment for different songs. From the beginning on it was very collaborative and fun. We were pretty much on the same wave length and thus the collaboration was very constructive and fun too. 

As of a brief, Pynk is about female sexuality. The lyrics were the biggest inspiration for the visuals, I’d say.

Did you win the job through a pitch or did the commissioners want you to direct from the outset?

Through a pitch. 

You’ve previously written, directed and edited your own work – were you comfortable working with what must have been a much bigger crew, choreographers and location set up than usual?

Yes it was like a dream, because that’s what I want to do. Also everybody who was on set/ working on the production, was very laid-back and creative so it was amazing.
The costumes too are surely going to scoop up every known award for wardrobe design. What was the thought and practical process of arriving at the Vagina Pants?

The idea of the pants came at an early stage of the development, accompanied by the choreography of Jemel Williams. I then invited my good friend and amazing designer Duran Lantink to make some sketches. He developed those with Janelle and made them within four days (!!)

Was the editor on set, figuring out the cuts to the rhythm as you filmed?

No, but the editor, Deji LaRay, is definitely amazing.

Did you meticulously work out everything with pre-production storyboards or did some action evolve on set?  

I did, but we also improvised a lot on set. Janelle is very creative and comes up with ideas all the time.
This video really is a game changer for you – might you now direct a feature film?

I actually directed a (very low budget) feature film last summer. We’re in post-production now. I’m currently in New York at Tribeca Film Festival, part of their brand new Works in Progress program, to screen 20 minutes to an industry audience. You can read more about the programme here

Did you grow up in a creative environment?

My parents and brother are not professionally creative, they are respectively psychologists and a gym teacher. But they are creative in their own ways. My mom can do everything, paint, make clothes, cook and is a musician too. My dad is quite the performer (at parties). Growing up they taught me that I’ll be working for most part of my life, so I might as well choose something that I like to do. They also taught me, by their way of life, that you can have a laugh wherever. 

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
No, I never really saw myself in the future, still don’t. It freaks me out to think too far ahead. I like to take things per project. 

Where do you currently call home?

I’m actually a little bit in between places at the moment, but it may soon be LA…



Janelle Monae


Janelle Monae, PYNK

Director: Emma Westenberg
Producer: Justin Benolio
Producer: Whitney Jackson
AD: Giovanni Cotto-Ortiz
DOP: Oliver Millar
Choreographer: Jemel Williams
Stylist: Alexandra Mandelkorn
Production Designer: Emma Rose Mead
Editor: Deji LaRay
Colorist: Sophie Borup / Co 3 NY